Join 3,555 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Scalp the Zazous
February 8, 2010 3:50 PM   Subscribe

"Imagine, amid the grey serge of wartime France, a tribe of youngsters with all the colourful decadence of punks or teddy boys. Wearing zoot suits cut off at the knee (the better to show off their brightly coloured socks), with hair sculpted into grand quiffs, and shoes with triple-height soles - looking like glam-rock footwear 30 years early - these were the kids who would lay the foundations of nightclubbing. Ladies and gentlemen, les Zazous."

Similar to the Edelweiss Pirates and Swing Kids of Germany and the Schlurfs of Austria, Les Zazous protested Nazi 'culture' through their dress, dance, and other acts of nonconformism.

"When the yellow star was forced on Jews, non-Jews who objected began to wear yellow stars with 'Buddhist', 'Goy' (Gentile) or 'Victory'. Some Zazous took this up, with 'Zazou' written below the star. When the French Jews were removed from the scene, the Vichy regime and their Nazi masters turned on the Zazous."

"Soon, round-ups began in bars and Zazous were beaten on the street. They became Enemy Number One of the fascist youth organisations, Jeunesse Populaire Française. 'Scalp the Zazous!' became their slogan. Squads of young JPF fascists armed with hairclippers attacked Zazous. Many were arrested and sent to the countryside to work on the harvest."

Zazous: dancing under the Nazis in France

Images of Les Zazous

Zaz Zuh Zaz, by Cab Calloway
Georges Brassens' cover of Je Suis Swing, by Johnny Hess
Ils Sont Zazous, by Johnny Hess
posted by Paragon (15 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

Zazou, comment allez-vous?
posted by Ratio at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

A thin line between love and crime and collaboration.
posted by matthewr at 4:09 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not to be confused with this French Zazou.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:10 PM on February 8, 2010

I love the idea of protesting something as evil and soul-less as the Nazi regime by making music and living life. Seeing the triumph of optimism and culture over something so fundamentally at odds with joy makes my heart sing. That is true defiance.
posted by the_royal_we at 4:14 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seeing the triumph of optimism and culture over something so fundamentally at odds with joy makes my heart sing.

There's a quotation in the third link that speaks to that directly:

"Cardinal Gerlier noted with regret that even some Christian families were infringing the ban, which he deplored because 'among all the different forms of recreation, dancing is the one that expresses joy most fully'. There was too much misery abroad and, he added in a reference to the Germans, it was wrong 'to dance under the gaze of those who observe us'."

Geez, what a grinch.
posted by Paragon at 4:18 PM on February 8, 2010

I love the idea of protesting something as evil and soul-less as the Nazi regime by making music and living life.

You might like Les Enfants du Paradis, "a 1945 film by French director Marcel Carné, made during the Nazi occupation of France."
posted by lekvar at 4:31 PM on February 8, 2010

From the second link:

While the adults skirted the Nazi regulations, their younger counterparts favoured far more public defiance. Raising a finger to the world, the Zazous would shout "Swing", give a little hop, then cry out, "Zazou hey, hey, hey, za Zazou!," followed by three slaps on the hip, two shrugs of the shoulder and a turn of the head.

I'd be really curious if there was ever any video of this...
posted by heyforfour at 4:33 PM on February 8, 2010

Yeah, Paragon, I saw that as i explored the post more fully. It honestly chokes me up. Reminds me of something a co-worker was telling me about a "holocaust art" show he saw, that featured art that had been created by the people held in the death camps. While not totally germaine to this post, it stirs the same feeling in me. Something he said made me just burst into tears: "I mean, using your last energy you have to create something in the most of unspeakable circumstances. That is being undefeated. That is not letting them win." It was amazing. Anytime joy and creativity triumph over evil, the world improves. We all do.
posted by the_royal_we at 4:44 PM on February 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've long loved the Zazous story! Thank you for such a great round-up on their contributions and calamity.
posted by batmonkey at 5:08 PM on February 8, 2010

Very interesting! Thanks!
Brigitte Fontaine&M's take on the Zazous (That i now understand!) : Y'a des zazous. (lyrics) .
posted by CitoyenK at 5:31 PM on February 8, 2010

Very interesting. I'll read more when I'm less drunk.
Also, the Hippies gave us Nazis?
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 7:10 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is a fascinating story, many thanks! It's sad that so little documentary evidence has survived. I was intrigued by the reference by the Nazi magazine to "ultra swing."

I also immediately thought of the Pet Shop Boys ... it's amazing how one distinct word can stick around in your brain for years and pop right back up.
posted by carter at 7:42 PM on February 8, 2010

what with all the hipster hate on mefi, i can only imagine how you all would have made fun of them at the time.
posted by empath at 8:27 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

My favorite Zazou.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:45 PM on February 8, 2010

Honestly, can't most instances of joyful irreverence be somehow traced back to Cab Calloway? The man is the catalyst for everything awesome.
posted by Lou Stuells at 9:16 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Found Functions....  |  The United States and Australi... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments